What shows up on the stat sheet isn’t necessarily reflective of what happens on the film. Mark Schofield looks at the perils of box score scouting, digging into the film for adjustments of the protection by 2016 NFL Draft prospect Cardale Jones and Tom Brady to show how each QB did his job.
Cardale Jones is another prospect with both impressive traits and potential flaws, in a quarterback class filled with intriguing, if not difficult, evaluations. Following a rocket ship ride from redshirt sophomore to hoisting the national championship trophy in the 2014-2015 season him, Jones struggled at times this past year. He saw his playing time diminish in the second half of the season, and did not appear in Ohio State’s final three games. But the quarterback possesses some very impressive raw talent, and in the right situation he could be a perfect developmental QB in the NFL.
As previously illustrated, there are times when the end result of a play fails to tell the whole story, and when a negative result actually tells you more positives about a quarterback than it illustrates flaws. Take, for example, this sack of Jones against Penn State:
At first glance, it seems that his play speed and pocket presence need improvement. The Nittany Lions rush only four defenders, and Jones tries to climb the pocket but is too late – well after Carl Nassib (#95) has burst past the right tackle and into the pocket. Jones cannot escape, and is dragged down for a loss in the backfield.
What happens before the snap is impressive, despite the negative result. In a position where mental prowess is sometimes – if not often – more important than pure physical talent, Jones displays a deep knowledge of scheme and protection, as he adjusts the play before the snap in response to what he sees from the defense.
Ohio State faces a 1st and 10 on the Penn State 41-yard line with 11 personnel and an empty backfield. Jones stands in the shotgun with a slot formation to the right with tight end Nick Vannett (#81) in the slot. To the left side OSU uses trips, with running back Ezekiel Elliot (#15) as the inside receiver. Penn State has their base 4-3 defense set with a Cover 2 look in the secondary, and linebacker Brandon Bell (#11) to the outside over the TE:
As Jones begins to bark out the cadence, Bell flashes down to the right edge of the offense, in blitz posture:
Seeing this, Jones turns to Varrett and instructs the TE to slide into a wing alignment to help against the edge rush. In addition, the QB comes toward the line of scrimmage and makes some additional pre-snap protection adjustments:
Jones then drops back to his standard shotgun alignment, and the TE drops back a bit as well, lining up as an up back to the right of the QB:
As we have seen the play goes for a sack, but the involvement of Jones in the pre-snap phase of the play is a tremendous window into his development at the next level. While college protection calls can often come from the sideline, NFL quarterbacks need to identify potential blitzes and adjust their protection accordingly.
The Chess Match
In their first meeting, New England faces a 1st and 10 at the New York 46-yard line. They have 11 offensive personnel on the field, and Brady stands in the shotgun in an empty backfield, with trips to the right and slot formation on the left. The Jets show pressure before the play:
All six front defenders are on the line of scrimmage. The two linebackers, David Harris (#52) and Demario Davis (#56) sugar the A gap before the snap. The two defensive ends each use a wide 9 alignment, with Muhammad Wilkerson (#96) well outside right tackle Cameron Fleming (#71) and Quinton Coples (#98) well outside left tackle Sebastian Vollmer (#76):
Brady needs to make a decision: With only five blockers to protect against the six potential pass rushers, he can either roll the dice and gamble that the Jets drop one or both linebackers into coverage, or he can shore up protection. The quarterback goes the latter route, shifting tight end Rob Gronkowski (#87) into the formation:
New England adjusts the protection here, bringing the TE in as an extra blocker and using slide protection to the left. This is an area blocking design, where each lineman begins the play with an opening step to their left looking to block to the gap on their left shoulder:
Despite their best efforts, the Jets quickly beat the protection and force Brady to break the pocket, pursued by rushers. However, Gronkowski makes himself available for a dump off, and then rumbles into the secondary:
This is by no means a one-to-one comparison between Brady and Jones, but it does illustrate what NFL quarterbacks are tasked with accomplishing in the presnap phase. So while Jones gets sacked on the play in question, I walk away with more positive thoughts about the OSU quarterback. His understanding of the defense, the protection scheme called in the huddle, and the adjustments he makes in response to what he sees, all bode well for his transition to the professional game.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.
Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.